On leave from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Major Dani Addams, finds herself in the fight of her life. She leaves few clues about the dangers she’s in. Now, everything depends on a stranger and his dog.
Tripwire’s mission: Find her.
A member of Iniquus Security’s elite tactical K9 search and rescue team, Trip and his K9 Valor are on cliff’s edge as an unprecedented storm advances.
When they get to Dani, Valor’s behavior is inexplicable. What about this woman is throwing Valor off her training? Trip always trusts his dog—something about this situation isn’t what it seems.
With his life and his heart on the line, Trip risks it all to protect her. Will it be enough?
Survival Instinct is the newest series in the Iniquus World. It can be read as a stand alone, part of the series, or part of the Iniquus World.
Release date: July 12, 2020
Print pages: 300
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Harrison “Tripwire” Williams reached for the Kong, covered in slobber. “Release.” He ducked his chin and lifted his brow as the word whispered from his lips.
His German shepherd partner, Valor, complied instantly. She wasn’t really a toy kind of gal, anyway.
Tripwire thought she probably chewed the Kong to please him. Play drive wasn’t Valor’s thing. That was the reason Lackland’s Military Working Dog program released her for adoption. In the military, play drive was an absolute requirement in dogs deploying to foreign soil.
Food worked to get Valor’s attention, especially bits of dehydrated duck or salmon. But there were few dog jobs where food rewards were a good idea.
Luckily, Trip had discovered that Valor was driven by love and attention. If she got a high-pitched, “Good girl!” and a vigorous fur scrub, she was motivated to work whatever job he gave her.
The biting needed for take downs, though?
Yeah, that might be a stretch.
When Valor was released from the military training program, Trip flew out to Lackland Airforce Base to see if she might make a good addition to Iniquus’s Cerberus Tactical K9 team. In the demonstration, Valor would race out and bite the guy wearing the thick protective gear that saved him from the worst of the onslaught. Valor was an amazing, powerful athlete as she sailed through the air to make the tackle. She did as her handler asked, one hundred percent. But when Valor got her release command, she’d whine and rub her body up against the “bad guy” as if she were trying to apologize and offer comfort.
It was pretty funny.
And it was how she got her nickname, “Little Mama”. Valor was willing to mete out a necessary punishment even if it hurt her heart to do it, like mothers do.
No, Valor wasn’t meant to go to war. She was way too much of a love bug. Valor was born to do the job that they were here training for, tactical search and rescue. Together, Trip and Valor were honing their skills, so they’d be ready for the calls that would certainly go out.
Inevitably, they’d be jumping into the fray, heading out into the storms, and saving those in desperate straits.
“Hello, beautiful.” Trip laughed, as Valor pushed her wet nose up under his chin and gave him a string of tongue licks. He scrubbed his fingers into the caramel and black fur at her neck, down to her haunches, and back up to her ears where he pressed and rotated his fingers until she made deep moaning sounds at the base of her throat and peddled her back paw. This was what Trip called her “expensive reward”. She wanted ear massages more than anything else. Dried duck on the ground or the chance of an ear rub? The massage won out every time. He offered this up when Valor did the hard stuff.
Staying calm and centered while they got ready for their skydive was the hard stuff. Trip wanted her to feel relaxed, rewarded, and safe. If he could do that for Valor, then this training mission would be golden.
When Trip rested his hand on Valor’s scruff, to let her know the massage was over, Valor thanked him with another lap of her wet tongue up the side of his cheek.
Trip reached for her goggles. “Ready to go to work?” He raised his brows, and Valor comically raised hers, too. Yeah, she was ready. She was always ready. Bred for strength and tenacity, she was a proud descendent of a Czech line of war dogs. There was nothing she liked better than to hunt for a missing person, and she didn’t mind at all the tactical side of things—fast roping down cliffs and what have you.
For the last week, Valor and Tripwire had been up here in West Virginia, training with international search teams that got called up and deployed in natural disasters worldwide. They’d been working the search dogs on and off helicopters, fast roping into ravines, getting them ready to deploy in hard to reach areas should a disaster strike.
Today, they’d be jumping out of planes.
“You ready to show them how it’s done?”
Valor stood still while Trip adjusted the straps of her mirrored dog goggles into place. “Looking mighty badass, Miss Valorie.” He reached down and scooped up the new CAPS—Canine Auditory Protection System—developed by the Army to protect military working dogs’ sensitive ears. It fit like a hoody over her head to form a seal against the noise. It was Valor’s least favorite piece of equipment, so Trip stopped to reward her with a kiss and a full body hug once he’d adjusted it into place.
He knew she was ready for the next step when her tongue reached out and gave him a swipe.
Trip held out her muzzle. Valor would never bite him, not in a thousand years. But the training organizer required muzzles on transports with other dogs. Sometimes, in cramped quarters, dogs could spook. On the plane, they’d be packed in tight with all those sharp teeth and crazy strong jaw muscles. No good reason to take chances.
She stuck her nose into her muzzle, and Trip tightened the straps into place.
As the other handlers prepped their dogs, the K9s whined and paced, their heads down and slobbery or yawning widely, shaking their coats, trying to relieve stress. The K9s were picking up on their handlers’ anxiety.
Most of the rescue workers were jumping out of a plane for the first time. Stressful enough without a dog. But the first timers would be in good hands when they jumped, strapped tandem to a professional skydiving trainer.
“Let’s go, Little Mama.” Trip gathered up Valor’s lead, and they walked side by side out of the hangar to the jump plane.
When the other dogs in the group saw Little Mama’s confidence, they calmed a bit and seemed to follow alongside their handlers without shying away from the plane’s high-pitched engine noise.
Their plane had ten rescuers with their K9s on this jump run. Six trainers joined them to assist the newbies. Each plane was a mix of nationalities. The exercise leaders were trying to develop connections and trust between the teams.
On assignment, the Iniquus Search and Rescue Team was typically employed by a private corporation or government institution to go into a disaster zone to find and extract their people. Get them to safety. Or at least help them survive until next steps could be taken. The last disaster Trip worked had the Iniquus team tasked with pulling a group of university students out of the rubble heap when their dormitory collapsed in a South American earthquake. All the missing students in that building were accounted for. Injured, but alive.
Little Mama had made three of those finds.
Lives saved. Job accomplished.
If their search and rescue team wasn’t hired to find specific faces in dust-covered crowds of survivors, then Iniquus often sent the teams in as part of their charitable outreach. On those occasions, Trip went where he was directed.
A K9 team—a handler and a dog—was usually divvied up one dog to each search grid. Iniquus’s K9s almost never worked side by side on searches. That was why training events like the one they’d been participating in this week were a good idea.
Trip signaled for Valor to jump onto the plane then followed her in to find space on the bench next to the two other Iniquus handlers on this same jump run—the Cerberus team leader, Ridge with his K9 Zeus, and old-timer Bob, who handled mission tactical support, and his K9 Evo. The rest of the Iniquus team were loading onto the next two planes on the runway.
After settling Valor under the bench, making sure her paws and tail were safely tucked, Trip glanced out the window.
A man, with clipboard in hand, ran toward the pilot. Lots of wide-armed gesticulating. Trip followed the line of the finger point to see an airport flag flapping wildly in a gust of wind. It looked okay to Trip. A little wind was good to train in. You didn’t usually get your pick of weather conditions, especially when you were jumping into a disaster zone caused by Mother Nature.
The pilot checked her watch then jogged to the plane.
Tripwire glanced between his knees where Valor lay. Her head held high, she was alert and interested, her paws crossed lady-like in front of her. “That’s right, Mama, we’ve got this.”
The pilot took her seat, pulled on her belt, and soon they were gliding up through the clouds.
This would be Valor’s first jump from a plane. Though, the Cerberus Tactical K9s had spent some time down in Florida at an indoor wind tunnel that simulated the feel of skydiving without the risk. Before Iniquus made the trek to West Virginia for this training, Command wanted to make sure the handlers, as well as their dogs, were comfortable in the rigging, and the rescuers could maneuver with the added seventy or so pounds of K9 bulk.
Trip had had his fair share of jumping out of planes when he was still with the SEALs.
For some of the rescuers from other countries, it was their first time jumping. It was these first timers who were freaking out. Even Trip could smell the adrenaline sweat wafting through the cabin. No wonder the dogs, with their sensitive snouts, were showing signs of anxiety.
Valor swung her head, assessing each one. Calm. Even if she was the youngest one here. She’d just had her second birthday, the time when most military working dogs had left their foster families and were finishing up their first stages of training.
“Get ready. Ten minutes,” the pilot’s voice boomed over the speaker.
Trip pulled Valor’s jump bag over and laid it out. He put his hand in front of Valor’s face and signaled “in.”
Valor stepped to the center of the bag, adjusted, and lay down.
Trip checked her leg positions before zipping the neoprene-lined bag together, leaving Valor’s head sticking out. Trip preferred this rigging to the ones that left the K9s’ legs dangling free. He thought there were too many ways the dog could get hurt if the jumper came in for a hard landing.
Trip and the Iniquus team had practiced this until their dogs had it down pat. Valor, Zeus, and Evo were packaged up just fine.
“There’s a cold front moving in fast,” the pilot said. “Don’t mess around out there. On signal, get out, get down, get your parachute gathered and get ready for the truck to pick you up. This isn’t the time to be floating around sightseeing. Got it? Out. Down. Ready to exfil.”
The search professionals each gave her a thumbs up.
The plane dropped and lifted. Swayed and then balanced.
“See that?” the pilot asked into her mic. “We’re cutting this tight.”
Trip ran his hands over his equipment doing a mental check, imaging the steps he’d take once they were out the door. In his mind’s eye, he ran through his emergency sequences.
“We’re over the mark in five mikes.”
The men all held up five fingers to show that they understood that the door would open in that many minutes.
Trip stood. He balanced Valor’s weight that hung from him at various attachment points. He jostled around until everything felt correct, then made his way toward the door. They’d be the third in line.
Another buffet of wind caught the wings.
Trip stretched his arm out to the sides and pushed against the frame to keep his balance and stay upright. No matter what, he couldn’t face plant, or Valor would take the full impact of his weight crushing down on top of her.
No way would he let that happen.
“I’ve got you, girl.” He gave her a rub under the chin with his gloved hand. He worked to let any of his own stress about the new weather information roll off him. Fear was contagious for humans and the cabin was already thick with that. For dogs? Yeah, they picked up on the prevailing mood and magnified it back.
Especially with Valor’s first jump, fun was the name of the game. He rubbed under Valor’s chin. “You’ve got this.”
This first imprint was the important one.
The Iniquus dogs needed this tool in their toolbox in case they ever needed to jump into remote areas cut off by natural disasters to pull people to safety.
This was imperative. Without this skill, Valor couldn’t stay on the team. Trip would be assigned a different K9.
His fellow Iniquus teammate, Ridge—now retired from Delta Force—double checked Trip’s gear: all the straps, the altimeter, the pins in the back, and finally Valor.
Ridge turned and Trip did the same for him.
Three experienced jump teams out first. Ridge and his K9 Zeus had the most experience. They’d be the first team out, then Pierre from the Swiss team and his dog Hugo, then Trip and Valor.
Pierre was getting a once over now by the jump master.
Since their fellow Iniquus teammate Bob, with K9 Evo, were the ones with the second most jumps under their belt, they’d be last in line so someone with experience would be above the rest, keeping an eye out for problems.
The door slid open, and the dogs’ anxiety levels escalated as the wind battered the interior of the plane.
“You’re okay, girl.” Trip wriggled his fingers into her scruff.
Her tight muscles relaxed.
Ridge moved into the doorway, waiting for his signal from the jump master.
Trip made a mental picture of wrestling around with Valor and giving her a belly rub. He projected that picture toward Valor just as he moved up behind Pierre. Trip would swear Valor turned her head and sent him a smile.
Ridge was out.
Trip loved that first step out of the plane into nothingness. Free floating on a cushion of air. He grabbed the door frame as Pierre hugged Hugo and turned his back to the opening ready to let himself fall away.
In that nano-second, the plane lurched in a stomach-dropping fall, then a gust tipped the plane hard, tossing first Pierre, then Trip and Valor out the door.
Trip flipped to his back to look up, resting Valor on his stomach and taking the brunt of the air speed. He watched the tip of the plane’s wing scoop back upward and tag Pierre as the pilot righted the plane.
Pierre went limp. His mask broken. Pierre’s face was covered in blood. He hung like a rag doll, his limbs riding the current.
Hugo peddled his paws furiously trying to gain control.
Pierre and Hugo spun toward Earth at terminal velocity.
On his back, looking up, Trip saw that the pilot had leveled out. The door was closing.
No other jumper was detaching his dog and going after Pierre.
It was up to Valor and Trip to save them.
A gust of wind flipped Pierre onto his back. He was passing below Trip about twenty or so meters down.
Trip had trained to give an assist to fellow SEALs when jumps went bad. He’d never witnessed a guy impact with the plane before. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, Trip wouldn’t have believed that was possible.
From what he could tell from this distance, K9 Hugo looked physically okay, but he was frantic. His gear with the open leg holes meant he was raking Pierre with sharp claws as the K9 scrabbled for safety.
Earth was getting closer. They needed their chutes opened stat.
There was no immediate remedy other than for Trip to get to the other team and see where he could go from there.
Trip angled himself head down, legs extended with pointed toes, torpedoing through the air toward Pierre.
This was going to freak Valor but good. They were moving about a hundred and eighty miles an hour.
Trip’s helmet sliced into the air.
His streamlined body powered forward.
Valor tucked her head up against Trip’s chest, her snout following the curve of his neck. Her wet nose tucked under Trip’s chin; Valor’s warm breath displaced the cold wind.
One of the things going for Trip was the Iniquus choice of putting the dogs in neoprene lined bags. They hugged the dogs tightly like a thunder vest to help keep their nervous systems calm.
Valor wasn’t flailing like Hugo.
Count your blessings where you find them.
Pierre and Hugo disappeared into a cloud.
Trip pulled up, rounding his body like a cat jumping from a roof. This slowed his descent enough that he could search for the lost team.
The ground was ever closer.
The window of time to pull his chute and save himself was narrowing.
There! Pierre had been pulled to their left by a gust.
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